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Posts tagged ‘Rob Fermier’

10
Sep

Rob Fermier blogs about Age of Empires programming history

 

Hot on the heels of Ian Fischer’s blog about AOE-O design and Dave Kubalak’s blog about the vision behind the new Age of Empires game, long time Age of programmer come lead programmer at Robot Entertainment, Rob Fermier talks us through the history of the Bang engine which has powered each Age game since 3D graphics started with Age of Mythology. Before the bang engine came along Ensemble Studios were using another in house 2D engine called “Genie”. By around 1999 and before Ensemble acquisition by Microsoft, Ensemble were playing around with a new 3D engine which later became known as Bang. This engine was first used with Age of Mythology taking the Age series into 3D for the first time:

The first iteration of the Bang engine produced these graphics in Age of Mythology

The same Bang engine was used again for the expansion pack Age of Mythology - The Titans. When Age of Empires 3 came along the engine underwent significant improvements:

For Age of Empires 3 (2005) it received some major upgrades – a modern shader-based rendering system, physics integration, new particle effects, and numerous unit sim improvements.   Several expansion packs also were built to enhance those games, leveraging the extensibility and flexibility of the Bang engine.

After the extensive work put into the engine Age of Empires 3 turned out graphics looking more like this:

But its not all about graphics, a game engine comprises of many different parts which make up the whole thing. For example you have graphics, sound, music, UI, AI, scenarios, triggers, databases and more. There is alot going on behind the scenes of an Age game. In fact the engine is over 1.2 million lines of code. Although not all these lines are serious pieces of code, as Rob points out there is Ensemble humour buried in the code. -

(Click to enlarge)

I am certain this Ensemble style humour will continue into Robot Entertainment’s edits of the engine!

The blog finishes up with a few words about the future of the engine with Age of Empires Online and the new features it brings:

As you play Age of Empires Online (sign up for the Beta here), the technology powering your game experience is a mix of brand new online tech, new gameplay systems, and battle-tested core RTS mechanics that we have been constantly improving for over a decade.   It is always amusing to come across a comment from yourself in 1999.  Game technologies are often abandoned after a few years, so it has been very rewarding to work with this particularly robust game engine for so long.

As always, this is just a summary of the full blog post and I recommend everyone check out the full posting on the Robot Entertainment for more information and “fun facts”!

 http://www.robotentertainment.com/blog/detail/Brief-History-Time-and-Age-Engine

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17
May

Ex Ensembler’s Ian Fischer, Rob Fermier and David Rippy look back

Some ex-Ensemble staff have been reminisces about the old days to some gaming websites / magazines. As always interviews and articles from Ex Ensemblites provides interesting insight into the workings of the studio and what made it a unique and special place to work – the studio lifestyle and culture.

First up we have Ian Fischer who takes us back to the original Age of Empires and Age of Kings timezone over at gamesource.org. Ian discusses the origins of the studio and how it started off with the bright idea by Tony Goodman and some of his close friends:-

“Ensemble Studios had its roots in a consulting firm: Ensemble Corporation. One night in 1993, Tony Goodman was talking to Angelo Laundon, one of the programmers at Ensemble Corp. While discussing the buisness, one of them (neither remembers which) asked, “Wouldn’t it be more fun to make games?

and boom that was it..”

The article as written by Ian Fischer is a well worthy read of any Ensemble fan and spans four pages of in depth detail about Ensemble Studios in the early days prior to the Microsoft acquisition. You can read the excellent piece in e-magazine form over at gamesource.

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In another story long timer ES’rs Rob Fermier and David Rippy talk to GameZone discussing how the recession impacted on studios like Ensemble.

Of all the studios that shut down over the last few years, the closure of Ensemble Studios was amongst the least expected. The critically acclaimed Age of Empires and Halo Wars developer had a great track record of quality games that sold well, reviewed strongly and won awards. None of that was enough to prevent its closure – former Ensemble luminary Bruce Shelley admits the company was perhaps too specialized, too expensive and had too many costly, unproduced projects. Fortunately, out of the demise of Ensemble were born several new studios, including Robot Entertainment, Bonfire Studios, Windstorm Studios and NewToy. – GameZone

David Rippy who now serves as president over at Bonfire Studios commented:

“It was really an amazing experience, I had the pleasure of working at Ensemble from day one and watched it grow from a few guys experimenting with a WinG tank demo into a really well-respected game company. Hardly anyone ever left Ensemble, so it truly felt like family. Tony Goodman (our studio head) created an environment and culture where people actually enjoyed going to work every day and even hung out on the weekends.

We had a movie theater, arcade games, pool table, gourmet food … you name it! We certainly worked hard and crunched around major milestones, but we did it because we loved the games we were making. I think most former ES-rs will remember it as a really cool place to work, a great group of people who were completely committed to the company and their craft, and hopefully some of the most rewarding years of their life.”

Rob Fermier, Robot’s Lead Programmer also waded in for comment and continues:

 “Ensemble was rare in that most of the people working there had been working together for many years, with a great deal of continuity. Being able to establish such deep working relationships with people was incredibly valuable, and we had strong bonds to each other and to the studio. I’ll most miss that sense of team that we had – a well established development process, a deep understanding in our area of expertise, and strong sense of studio identity. Such things take years to build, and once gone are lost forever.”

Read the full article and additional comment from ES people over at GameZone

Despite many Ensemble staff staying in the Dallas area some will have moved away and it is sad to remember a great studio being split up. Looking towards the future we are blessed to have the excellent talent from Ensemble Studios in four main studios – Robot, Bonfire, Windstorm and NewToy. I am sure the quality of games produced from these studios will echo the values and quality of those games developed as a team at Ensemble.

As the larger studios continue to work on thier first production projects announcements and news are just around the corner. Keep a sharp eye on these studios – great things are coming!

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6
Aug

How do Robot programmers boot up?

Robot Blogs

Ever wondered how Robot programmers start the day, or boot up in the mornings? Well Rob “Xemu” Fermier the Lead Programmer for Robot’s next IP details the morning start in depth. As the morning begins and charged over night Robot’s make their way to the pods for work they first gather round and exchange communication in the form of Morning Syncing. This is a 15 minute process where programmers talk to each other about what they did yesterday and what they are going to do today. Keeping in sync so that everyone knows whats happening. It sounds like a great idea as it enables programmers with particular talent areas to focus in on what they are good at and ensuring no overlapping of jobs. As this syncing happens every single morning its important to have some ground rules. Lead Programmer Rob Fermier details these below:

 

  • Short:  Each person has to be short and to the point, and the whole thing usually takes 10 to 15 minutes.  It’s never allowed to go over 15 minutes, period.  Discussions that crop up as a result of the morning sync are usually resolved in ad hoc meetings immediately afterwards.
  • Easy: We sync right in the same pod where we are working, so there’s very little organization required.  Everyone has a good sense of what they are doing and never has to “prepare” anything.  One advantage of a daily meeting is that it can be pretty casual and folks fall into a routine with it easily.
  • Reliable: The sync always starts on time, regardless of who is there.  People can plan on it and it doesn’t drag on by starting late or hanging around.
  • Open: Anyone is welcome to listen in on the sync meetings.  But they don’t talk, since the meeting is focused on the people doing the work.  By having them out in a common space, it promotes the idea that we want to share information to anyone who wants it.

morningsync[1]

Programmers engaged in the morning sync

Read more in the full blog:  Robot Coders.

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